December 2, 2016

our first Surprise Ride box (and how to get yours free!)...

November 2016 Surprise Ride box.
EDIT: The referral links and referral page on the Surprise Ride website currently seem to be down, but while I'm checking into this, feel free to visit Money Saving Mom, which has a link for a free box that seems to be working just fine!

We recently received our first Surprise Ride box for Eisley, and I was so impressed that I had to bust out the fancy camera for some photos (and share the goodness here, of course!). I was able to get our first box for free, thanks to using a referral from another blogger, and you can also get yours for free if you use my link at the bottom of the post. I was honestly just planning to get the free box, then cancel my subscription, but due to the fact that Eisley learned so much from the whole experience and absolutely loved the projects, I am hoping to add it into our homeschooling budget every month. I'm sold!

Each of the Surprise Ride boxes are aimed at kids age 5+ and are filled with items around one specific theme. It could be anything ranging from science to geography to art to history. Each box includes a full-size book, two projects to complete, a snack, and a few little extras. Here's a look into what we received in November, which had the theme of Polar Bears:
November 2016 Surprise Ride box.
  • Magic Tree House: Polar Bears Past Bedtime book
  • Freeze-dried ice cream sandwich
  • Polar Bear Habitat project
  • Polar Bear Paw coaster project
  • Rubber bracelet
  • Snowflake water game
  • Hot chocolate with a polar bear stirrer

November 2016 Surprise Ride box.
Everything arrived in a way that was so fun for Eisley to open and explore. Aside from the items I mentioned before, there was also a fact booklet on polar bears filled with information that was interesting for even me to read and discuss with Eisley! Here's a closer look at some of the projects and other items Eisley loved most:

November 2016 Surprise Ride box.
Eisley has loved this series since we discovered them earlier this year (and she can now read them all on her own!), so we were both excited to receive this book. While they're not the most well-written books, they're such fun early chapter books and are a great introduction to many things a child may never think to read about on their own. Very fun!

November 2016 Surprise Ride box.
This project was very fun for Eisley, and I love that they included everything you needed to make the coaster—down to the miniature bottle of tacky glue! There were pompoms leftover, which we will totally use for something else in the future, I'm sure.

November 2016 Surprise Ride box.
Eisley says her favorite part of the box was the snack (no surprise there!). This freeze-dried ice cream sandwich was totally bizarre and delicious. It was fun getting to try something she would normally never eat!

November 2016 Surprise Ride box.
The second project had her create a polar bear habitat using water beads, which she absolutely loved. For some reason we've never used water beads before and now I'm totally regretting it, because those things buy me a solid 30 minutes (or more) of creative play for this child. I love that you can reuse water beads, because this is something that she will get so much use out of over and over. That's a mom win, I'd say!

If you're interested in Surprise Ride and would like to snag your first box for free then click here to sign up! You'll only pay shipping, which is less than $6. If you don't want to receive any boxes after the first one, just be sure to shoot them an email before the 15th of the month to avoid being billed again. Future boxes cost $29.95 (including shipping), but remember to share your referral link if you love what you received, and if someone signs up using your link you'll get $10 off your next box.

Honestly, even if you end up cancelling after the first month, I think it's more than worth it to get your first box for free—you could even wrap it up to use as a Christmas gift, or save the activities for your child to do over the holidays with you, grandparents, or other family members they don't often get to spend time with.

Have your children received one of these before? Are there any subscription boxes for kids that you absolutely adore? I know there are so many out there, so it's nice to weed through them all by hearing what actual mamas think.

Affiliate links included in this post. If you order through my referral links, I will receive $10 to use toward my next order. Thank you for your support (and for helping to stretch our homeschooling budget!). View my disclosure policy here.

November 30, 2016

a small list of good things...

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+ Decorating for Christmas has felt very therapeutic this year. It's been a couple years since we put up a tree of our own (due to traveling over the holidays) and I've loved having it light up our apartment since the day after Thanksgiving. Granted, Cora is removing ornaments about as quickly as we can re-hang them, so that has been delightful for my perfectionism. (Motherhood does a good job at lowering expectations of things like home decor. But the above shelves are safely out of reach, hallelujah and good night.)

+ This month we received our first Surprise Ride box for Eisley, and it was so fun to get something like that in the mail. Inside we found two creative projects for her to complete, a chapter book she adored, a snack, and several little extras. The whole thing is educational, which is a plus for my mama self. We haven't done a subscription box since our Citrus Lane days (a company which is now defunct, sadly) and I'd love to continue getting this one to add to our homeschool routine each month! I'll post a full review later this week, but if anyone is interested in checking it out, click here and you can get your first box free, just pay shipping (this is how we were able to get our first box). Even if you cancel, it's more that worth it to get the free one, I say. You can even tuck it under the tree as a Christmas gift!

+ I recently discovered how to cook bacon in the oven and it has changed my life. 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes on a foil-lined cookie sheet and BOOM. It's done. Without any hassle or grease splatters on the stove or your favorite cardigan. Has everyone else been doing this forever? I don't even care. Just give me bacon every dang day. (After many years of being mostly vegetarian at home, I've been buying meat again and have no regrets. It's possible I'm eating too much bacon, however.)

+ This week I've started sleep training Cora because it's been 16 months of multiple nighttime wakings and I'm pretty close to losing my mind. I'm taking a very gentle approach, but it's going well so far. The dream is to have both girls in their room together as soon as humanly possible. And for me to feel human again as soon as humanly possible. Say a prayer and send cookies!

+ I'm currently reading Simplicity Parenting and, oh, is this book exactly what I need right now. This year I've thought a lot about how to simplify our lives (both in the things we do and with the things we have) and it's so reassuring to read all this research on how having less and doing less can greatly benefit a child (not to mention the parents). I definitely recommend this book to any parent trying to figure out how to navigate these things in the over-scheduled, materialistic culture we currently find ourselves in.

+ I love December. And thinking about the year that is coming to an end, as well as the one that is just around the corner. It's really the best.

— Further reading: more small lists of good things

Affiliate links included in this post; view my disclosure policy here.

October 21, 2016

how I listen to audiobooks (and six recent favorites)...

image For the past year, audiobooks have become one of my favorite things. I am still a bit of a podcast junkie, but once I've depleted my weekly queue, I often fill the void with my latest audiobook. (As shown in the photo above, my current listen is The Lifegiving Home by Sally and Sarah Clarkson. It makes me want to buy a bunch of candles and listen to Celtic music and invite people over for a homemade dinner. I love it.)


It's rather fantastic how many ways you are able to listen to audiobooks for free these days, and I thought I'd share my recommendations, as well as a short list of books I've listened to recently and personally loved.

Here are the three ways I've listened to audiobooks for free:

Overdrive — This free app connects to my local library account and lets me browse a seemingly endless number of titles. They offer both eBooks and audiobooks, but I only use this app for the audiobooks because I'm an old, old woman and reading books on my phone makes me crabby. There is no limit on check-outs, and each title is yours to listen to for two weeks. The only drawback is that there is often a wait for more popular titles. (You can put books on hold, similar to when you want to read a physical book from the library that is wildly popular.) This app has a huge selection of titles, so if something is available on audiobook, odds are you should have no trouble finding it here. You're able to download each title you check-out to your device, so listening without using data is easy peasy.

Hoopla — I started using this free digital service through the app on my phone much more recently. Although I can also use it for free using my library account, I figured I had all my bases covered with Overdrive and thought it was basically the same thing. I wasn't interested in using it until a librarian convinced me by telling me that although it has a more limited range of titles, there is no wait time for the audiobooks you select and it also has music and movies. Yes, I was sold. The one drawback is that you are limited to 6 titles on any given month (you can mix-and-match audiobooks, full-length music albums and movies). If you have kids, I highly recommend using this as a great way to listen to audiobooks because their selection is fantastic. They have an unbelievable selection of kids titles! (We are currently working our way through the Ramona series.) Hoopla is my go-to app for audiobooks these days. Oh! And you are able to download any items you check-out to your device, so you don't have to worry about using any data while listening.

Audible — I did a 30-day free trial of this popular service because they were offering a free audiobook for signing up. (Right now you can snag two free audiobooks with the same trial offer. You get to keep the books even if you cancel, which is rather nice!) After the initial 30-days, I canceled the trial because I'm able to get most of what I want to listen to rather quickly at this point between the two above apps, and the $14.95/month price was just too high for me, even though it includes one free audiobook each month.

I thought I'd share a list of six titles I have recently listened to and totally recommend. To be honest, I have started and quit an equal number of audiobooks (I used to hate quitting physical books or audiobooks, but at this point in life I've given myself permission and it's rather freeing.). In any case, here is a short list of audiobooks I completely adored:

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng — It took me a while to get through this one, only because it's such a beautifully intricate story that isn't something to rush through. I'm not sure I've savored a book this much in a long, long while. I'd heard a lot of buzz about this book and I'm so glad I finally gave it a listen. Coming of age, the struggles within a family, a bit of mystery, the lessons we learn...this book covers it all in a beautiful (sometimes heartbreaking) way.

Don't You Cry by Mary Kubica — This author can do no wrong by me. She writes a great physiological thriller, and this one didn't disappoint! I love how this book weaves the stories of two characters together so perfectly and unexpectedly. I know many people couldn't stand Gone Girl or Girl on a Train, but if you enjoyed those titles (like me!) odds are you'd love any of Mary Kubica's books.

Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica — This would have to be my second favorite book from this author (my first being The Good Girl) and I can't recommend this one enough to any fan of this genre. The story goes back and forth between two characters: an ordinary woman and the homeless girl with a baby that she has a chance encounter with one day. It's one I'm so glad I listened to on audio, because it is so well done! I love hearing a story unfold piece by piece in this way.

A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold — This book is the memoir written by the mother of Dylan Klebold, who was one of the shooters at Columbine High School. This is one of the most honest, heartbreaking and life-changing books I've ever read (or listened to). It's also one I recommend to everyone—especially those of you who are parents. The author is deeply invested in raising awareness about mental illness and depression in children, teens and young adults, and the things she shares are so important for every one of us to hear. It's a very heart-wrenching memoir, but so worth taking the time to read. If you haven't yet read it, please do.

The Widow by Fiona Barton — This is another fantastic psychological thriller that I enjoyed so much. It is another that is told from several viewpoints as the chapters go on (which tends to be my favorite writing style these days). The widow in the book recently lost her husband, who was suspected of a terrible crime many years before. There are many twists and turns as the story shifts from the widow's story to the husband's story to a journalist's story and so on. (It does involve a missing child, so if that is a trigger at all, you may want to avoid this one.)

A Thousand Miles to Freedom by Eunsun Kim — This is one of those books you listen to and realize what a luxury it is to be doing a sinkful of crusty dishes with two screamy children trying to get your attention. Any complaint I have is such a first world problem when I hear stories like the ones the author shares. She grew up in North Korea and began her escape when she was just eleven years old. She isn't much older than I am, and just thinking about all she endured during her earliest years is almost inconceivable. It's a book I hope I'll always remember.

And now it's time for you to let me know of any and all audiobook recommendations you may have. I'd love to add some to my list! Especially those with British or Australian narrators, because that makes me all kinds of happy.

Further reading: the best celebrity memoirs I've read

Affiliate links included in this post; view my disclosure policy here